New reports continue to trickle in, and the story keeps growing ever-grimmer for embattled "Empire" star Jussie Smollett. The latest news out of Chicago reported by ABC is that the two Nigerian-American brothers, who have been "fully cooperating" with police after being detained last week, say that not only did Smollett pay them to stage the "racist and homophobic" attack, Smollett sent the infamous threatening letter to himself a couple of weeks earlier. To make matters worse, multiple outlets have confirmed that Smollett was found guilty of providing false information to police involving a DUI back in 2007.
So, if these widely reported claims about Smollett turn out to be true, how serious are the potential charges he would face? Some legal experts have begun to weigh in on the issue.
Speaking with Variety, Chicago-based criminal defense lawyer Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor, suggested that Smollett's "significant exposure" could end up coming back to haunt him if authorities press charges. "It's a very, very, very serious situation," he said.
Filing a false police report is a Class 4 felony in Illinois, Variety reports, carrying the potential of one to three years in prison. While some false reports are reduced to a misdemeanor, the high-profile nature of the case, the extensive and costly investigation, and Smollett's 2007 false report charge may end up prompting the state to push for prison time.
Former Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office prosecutor Andrew Weisberg echoed Turner's suggestion that all the publicity surrounding the case would likely end up making things "tougher" on the actor. "It’s a very high-profile case,” Weisberg told Variety. "Prosecutors tend to be tougher because everybody’s watching," he said, adding that he thinks they may "come down hard, in terms of not reducing it to a misdemeanor."
The growing costs of the already extensive investigation may also end up coming out of the actor's pocket if the report is proven to be false, the outlet notes.
But falsifying a police report is not the only crime potentially at play in the case. According to ABC News, federal investigators are now looking into unconfirmed claims by the two brothers allegedly involved in the incident that Smollett sent a letter to himself weeks earlier containing racist death threats and a white powder (crushed painkiller tablets). The brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, reportedly told police that Smollett orchestrated the attack with them because he was upset the letter didn't prompt a "bigger reaction" from the media.
"The FBI and the US Postal Inspection Service are currently investigating whether Jussie Smollett played a role in sending a threatening letter addressed to him at 'Empire’s' Chicago studio prior to the alleged attack, two federal officials confirm to ABC News," the network reported Tuesday. "The accusation, made by the two brothers who were persons of interest, has not been confirmed."
The prospect of a federal case, said constitutional attorney and Daily Wire editor-at-large Josh Hammer, could significantly "escalate" the situation. "The last thing that Smollett would want is the Feds to get involved," Hammer told The Daily Wire. "If in fact he did commit mail fraud and prosecutors were to pursue charges — which seems quite possible given the high-profile nature of the case — Smollett's legal situation would escalate significantly."
Mail fraud penalties vary widely but can be significant, including lengthy prison sentences (up to 20 years) and fines of up to $250,000 for a single count.